[Homily: Grade School Baccalaureate Mass, 26 March 2013]
We come together this morning to thank God for the grace of your graduation. God has created you. God loves you. He has given you countless blessings through your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends. Among those blessings is the blessing of today’s graduation. Loving you, God has been loyal to you. He has stayed with you, loving you. He has protected you through your parents and teachers. God has been loyal to you. You too must be loyal to God.
But what does it mean to be loyal?
Have you ever heard the story of Hachiko? Hachicko was a Japanese dog – a middle-sized, golden-brown Akita. He was the dog of a good master, a teacher, Professor Ueno. Hachiko loved his master, as his master loved him. Every day, Hachiko would accompany his master to the Shubuya train station in Tokyo, where his master would board the train to go to work. Every evening, Hachiko would go back to the train station to wait for his master’s return. When his master would get off the huge, steaming train, Hachiko would be there wagging his tail, barking and smiling as only dogs smile. His master would respond with his own smile, as only humans smile, and pet him in greeting. Hachico would then accompany his master home. In the year 1924 this is what Hachico did, day in and day out, never failing to accompany his master to the train station, never failing to fetch him in the evening to bring him home. Already that is a remarkable story, isn’t it?
But it becomes even more remarkable when Prof. Ueno, Hachiko’s master, dies. You may understand what death is. Humans die. But for Hachiko, this was not something his dog brain could understand. So every day, Hachiko would return to the Shubuya train station, and wait for the great steaming train to pull into its usual platform, waiting for his master to get of the train. The whistles would blow, the bells would ring, the huge train would screech to a halt, but his master would not come off the train. The next evening, however, Hachiko would go back, waiting loyally for his master. And when his master would not get off the train, he would go home, but come back again the next day, and wait again. Do you know that Hachiko did that every day for the next nine years, until it itself died? The people of Tokyo noticed this dog, and were so amazed at its loyalty, they made a bronze statue of it, to honor the dog whose loyalty was stronger than death.
What is loyalty? Loyalty is like Hachiko. Loyalty is constancy, patience, love that comes from a happy relationship stronger than death.
There is another dog story I would like to tell you, and for this story we do not have to go to Japan. It takes place right here in Mindanao. Remember the story of the dog, Kabang? Kabang was a member of the earthy, colorful, street-smart, collectors’ breed of dogs called “askals” – asong kalye. He was the pet dog of two little children in Zamboanga. I forget what their names were. So lets call one Pedro, the other Petra. One day, Pedro and Petra were playing on the street with Kabang. I think you all know it’s not a good idea to play on the street because of the danger of moving cars and trucks and bicycles. But Pedro and Petra had no other place to play. One day, not too long ago, Pedro and Petra were playing on the street, when suddenly they were about to be run over by a speeding motorcycle. Now Kabang was merely a dog, and just an askal at that. And grown-ups say that dogs don’t think. At least they don’t think like people, who when they see danger, easily run away. In the case of the askal, Kabang, however, when he saw danger coming to his little friends, Pedro and Petra, he ran up to them just as the speeding motorcycle was coming, and pushed them out of danger’s way. For saving Pedro and Petro, however, Kabang had to pay a great price: he was badly injured. His head was caught in the spokes of the motorcycle, and so was terribly injured, part of its snout being sliced away.
But if we want to understand loyalty. Loyalty is like Kabang. Loyalty is putting yourself in danger to save your friends, and paying the price, just to prevent your friend from being injured.
On your graduation day, you might recall the stories of Hachiko and of Kabang to understand the meaning of loyalty.
God loves us. He accompanies us. And when we are absent from him, he waits for us. And waits for us. He is loyal in his love – unto death. But unlike Hachicko, God does not just die, sad and frustrated. He dies in order to bring his friend back to life. He dies on the Cross to bring us back to life. That’s how God is loyal to us.
God loves us. He lives with us, works with us, plays with us. And when God sees danger coming, he acts to push us out of danger, even if in doing so he must be injured, suffer, and die. But God’s loyalty is stronger than injury, stronger than suffering, stronger even than death. That’s how God is loyal to us.
And what is an example of the opposite of loyalty? The opposite of loyalty is disloyalty. The opposite of loyalty is not being faithful to your master, not waiting for him, not rejoicing at his return. The opposite of loyalty is running away when your friend is in danger. The opposite of loyalty is betrayal. An example of betrayal, as our Gospel tells us, is Judas. He was unfaithful to his friend, Jesus. He sold him to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver.
As you graduate from the Ateneo Grade School, always remember, you have a friend, your God and your King. That God loves you, and places his hand over you in blessing. That God is loyal to you, even more than Hachiko was loyal to his Prof. Ueno, more than Kabang was loyal to Pedro and Petra. That God brought you to the happiness of this day, and will continue to accompany you to the fulfillment of tomorrow. Be loyal to your God in return. Do not be like Judas, traitor, who betrayed Jesus for money. Be loyal to your schoolmates, whom Jesus loves, your school, your friends and your families.
In the loyalty of God’s love, congratulations on your graduation!